Travels in Spain – Andalucía, The Flamenco and the Bull Fight

Raging Bull

“Nothing expresses the masculine quality of this country better than the bull-fight, that lurid and often tawdry gladiatorial ritual, which generally repels the northerner in the theory, but often makes his blood race in the act.”  – Jan Morris. ‘Spain’

In Andalucía  there is no Don Quixote of Castilla-La Mancha or El Cid of Castilla y Leon because this is the land of red blood passion, of Don Juan and Carmen, of gypsies and duels, tapas and sherry but above all else Andalucía is famous for flamenco and bull-fighters!

By late morning the weather had improved but it still looked dangerously unpredictable so we thought we might find something to do under cover. The choice was Bullring museum or bar?

We chose the bar!

Flamenco Red Chairs

But not just any bar, we selected ‘El Quinque’ because it had a two o’clock show of Spanish guitar and Flamenco dancing.  We took our seats and ordered some tapas  and eventually the lights dimmed and the show began.  First some exceptional guitar playing and then a lot of hand clapping and traditional singing and then eventually the dancing.

Spain Flamenco

To the lyrical sound of Spanish guitar, clacking castanets, the rhythmic stamping of Cuban heels and clicking stiletto rather like the sound of an approaching steam train, the dance show began and we enjoyed an hour of genuine Spanish music played by an assembly of musicians and a young woman dancing the flamenco; stamping, posturing and pouting in a rapid, aggressive, staccato style – wonderful vivacious movement, flicking to the left and sweeping to the right, stamping down the centre  and  accompanied all the time by the sound of chattering music like a machine gun firing into an empty sky.

El Quinque Flamenco Show

We enjoyed the show and were even happier when we emerged from the gloom of the bar into bright sunlight outside.  This was a good time to visit the bullring and the museum.

The Plaza de Toros in Ronda is one of the oldest operational bullrings in Spain.    It is only used once a year now for fighting but is important as a Matador training school because Ronda is well-known as the spiritual home of the modern corrida or bullfight.

The founder of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the famous Romero family of Ronda.  Before Francisco, bullfighting was an activity normally fought from the back of a horse in what was known as the ‘Jerez style’ but Romero introduced the style that we are most familiar with today when the brave Matador stands and fights on foot.

Bullfight Poster Spain

We visited the museum and took a backstage tour and then wandered around the arena itself and as we imagined ourselves to be famous heroic bullfighters the sun began to leak through the clouds and everywhere was magically transformed.

In a bullfight six bulls are killed in an event and this involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes.  If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the president of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail.  Personally I would rather have a cup or a medal or even better – a cheque!

It is called a fight but it is far from fair and for example the statistics show that in two hundred and fifty years only three matadors have died at the Seville bullring but they have dispatched almost two hundred and fifty bulls a year, so I can’t imagine that a lot of money changes hands betting on the outcome of the competition.

After the bullring tour we took the steps down from the old town along a path which led to the base of the Puerto Nuevo which gave a different perspective to the bridge and some more photo opportunities.  The climb back was arduous so once back at the top we stopped at a bar and ordered a beer which came promptly accompanied with an inevitable dish of olives.

Ronda The Bridge

There is always a complimentary dish of olives in the south of Spain because the country is the world’s leading producer and is by a long way the country with the highest number of olive trees and with more than three hundred million, is nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter, which explains why cafés and bars are always so generous with a plate of olives to accompany every drink.  They can afford to be!

We liked this bar/restaurant in a good position at the top of the canyon and made the decision that we would return later for evening meal.

Seville Flamenco

While Kim rested I went to the local shop for some wine and whilst there I asked about the cheese on display.  Just enquired.  I had a mind to take some home at the end of the week.  Unfortunately, due to language difficulties the shop owner interpreted my tentative interest as a firm order and to accompany the wine I ended up with a slab of cheese as big as a house brick.  I really must get back to Spanish lessons!

The weather continued to be moody and unreliable and when we walked out later the grey clouds were crawling like a contagion over the surrounding mountain tops as white dainty lace bonnets were replaced with grey skull caps and we dodged the showers until the sky broke in two, the black clouds disappeared and left behind a glorious sunset.

The day ended in spectacular fashion!

Ronda Spain Sunset

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30 responses to “Travels in Spain – Andalucía, The Flamenco and the Bull Fight

  1. “Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like corkscrews, their elbows raised, and leaned against the flanks of the bull after his horns has passed, to give a faked look of danger. Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Romero’s bullfighting gave real emotion because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time. He did not have to emphasize .their closeness.” From Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. By the way I like the poster too, Andres.

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  2. So, I hope the house brick of cheese was tasty. The music and dancing must have lifted your soul, along with the shy sun.

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  3. I burst out laughing at your brick of cheese Andrew. Dave and I managed a dishpan full of prawns in Portugal. Yes something to be said for learning the local language!

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  4. I don’t relish a bullfight. I think it’s cruel, and yes, unfair. They must eat a lot of bull meat. Ugh.
    Nice descriptions, Andrew. That last paragraph is picturesque.
    🙂

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  5. Would love to see a flamenco show like that, sounds great. The museum too sounds really interesting, good to learn about it but don’t think I have the stomach for a bull fight.

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  6. Would love to see genuine flamenco dancing. Your description was lovely.

    But ugh to bull fighting. I hope they outlaw it soon.

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  7. I was just listening to Rick Steve’s podcast and they were interviewing a few tour guides from Paris who are regulars on his show. One of them was talking about his love of bullfighting and mentioned that it is written up in the art section of the newspaper instead of the sports page. I love that and think it sums up how the country feels about bull fighting.

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  8. I could never bring myself to go to a bullfight as far too cruel in my mind. I am definitely a lover of most traditions but like fox and stag hunting or whaling this is one I would rather didn’t exist. On a lighter note I agree that well executed flamenco is awesome. Seville flamenco museum give a fab show.

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    • It is a tricky issue sure enough. Cruel certainly but part of the culture of Spain and I guess we struggle to understand it. Bullfighting goes back as far as ancient Greece and the Minoans before that. In Spain they consider it to be art/theatre rather than sport. I don’t think I would go to watch though!

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  9. Lets see, spicy Flamenco dancers backed up by talented guitarists or a bull fight. Not a very hard choice for me, Andrew. 🙂 –Curt

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  10. Pingback: Travels in Spain, Valencia and The Costa Blanca | Have Bag, Will Travel

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